Public housing on ‘The Rocks’: brutalism, heritage and the defence of inhabitance


  • Chris Butler, Dr Griffith University, Australia



The affordability, availability and adequacy of housing is a problem which now affects almost every major city in the world, as processes of financialisation and commodification increasingly circumscribe the possibilities for the democratic inhabitance of urban space. In Sydney, there has been a long-running campaign against the eviction of public housing residents in the historically working class, inner city neighbourhoods of Millers Point and The Rocks. This article discusses the community opposition to the New South Wales State Government’s decision in March 2014 to sell off 293 public housing dwellings and relocate residents, and focuses on the resistance by tenants of the famous Sirius building in The Rocks against forced evictions and the sale of the building. Reflecting on the ‘brutalist’ design that characterises the Sirius building, it will be argued that it is important to resist simplistic characterisations of brutalism as a relic of an inhuman modernism. The Sirius building demonstrates the possibilities of designing inner city public housing with the concerns of the elderly, the frail and the marginalised in mind. The campaign to save the Sirius building may be understood as a political defence of the idea of ‘inhabitance’, understood in terms of bodily occupation, the creative appropriation of space and the possibility of utopia. The preservation of such a building can be seen as an egalitarian and utopian demand for what Henri Lefebvre describes as housing for ‘collective luxury’; an entitlement to inhabit the inner city in dignity, from which none should be excluded.


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